Although they might not be jumping from their seats and covering their eyes in fright, your customers may be horrified by the appearance and behaviour of your staff.
A recent study from the University of Missouri found that the cleanliness of restaurant employees is vital to customer perceptions of food safety.
According to the survey group of more than 300 adults, the three food safety factors listed as being highly important to the diners were:
- keeping fingernails clean
- wearing clean uniforms
- wearing gloves while handling food
In addition to the above three, other common reasons for customers to not return to a restaurant are employees:
- with unkempt hair, or the absence of headwear
- who have bitten nails
- who wipe a runny nose with hands
Improving the hygiene of your staff doesn’t need to be a significant cost to your business. With the proper training, amendments to your Food Safety Plan and coaching, you’re sure to keep your customers smiling and ordering dessert, not screaming and running for the door like a serial killer is on their heels.
Review your employee facilities
Before you drop the hygiene hammer on your employees, take stock to see if you’re doing your due diligence as a business owner or manager to encourage good hygiene. You can set employees up for success with:
- employee change rooms that provide large mirrors, bright lighting, liquid soap and disposable wipes and towels
- separate handwashing stations that follow legal requirements, including hot and cold water, handwashing instructions, liquid soap, paper towels and a waste bin
- fresh garments for staff to change out of mid-shift when aprons, headwear or uniforms become stained or soiled
Once you’ve provided the essentials to your employees, it’s now time to grow their food safety knowledge and skills.
Train your Food Handlers
Health Canada estimates that over 11,000 Canadians will be hospitalized and 200 will die from a food-borne illness this year. Poor employee hygiene is one of the leading causes of food-borne illness.
The simple act of wiping hands on an apron after handling raw meats and poultry instead of washing them can lead to food-borne illness and the death of a customer. And this is just one example of the dangers of poor employee hygiene.
Sharing this information with your staff is a good start. To really change your employee’s behaviour, Food Handlers need to be trained and certified in food safety.
A Food Handler Certification course will teach your employees how they can protect themselves and others from being the cause of food-borne illness. Some topics covered in Food Handler training include:
- the link between cross-contamination and employee hygiene
- the correct handwashing procedure
- employees’ legal requirements in regards to hygiene
Once your employees are knowledgeable and have an awareness of what correct hygiene entails and why it’s required, you’re then ready to draft and enforce your policy.
Keeping on top of Food Handler hygiene
Your Food Handler hygiene policy needs to be part of your Food Safety Plan. It’s important that your policy is:
- in writing, and written clearly for staff to easily understand
- stored in a location that’s readily accessible
When writing your policy make sure you include:
- clear definitions of what employee hygiene comprises
- examples of both good and bad hygiene
- what will happen if staff fail to meet hygiene requirements
Address poor behaviour, reward good behaviour
Changing a habit is difficult, in fact, it usually takes 90-days for our brains to rewire and let go of old practices. Your team will require some coaching and probably some disciplinary actions.
But don’t get caught in the habit of only noticing employees' lousy behaviour. Praise your employees when you see them using handwashing stations, changing soiled aprons and demonstrating other healthy hygiene habits.
Ultimately, you’re enforcing employee hygiene standards to protect your customers’ safety and ensure your business isn’t out of business because of a food poisoning scandal. The best way to do this is by having facilities that foster good hygiene, providing training to your staff and consistently coaching behaviours.
For more information about managing employee hygiene in the workplace, including legislation governing personal hygiene and employee behaviours that can increase the risk of food contamination, download the CIFS Guide to Personal Hygiene for Food Handlers.